OPINION

Opinion: Immigration reform should come through legislation – not executive action

MEXICALI, BAJA CALIFORNIA - MARCH 25:  A boy walks along the US/Mexico border fence on March 25, 2005 in Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico. Since the launch of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1995, two-way trade has boomed between the US and Mexico, and Mexican dollars are fueling development in economically-depressed Calexico, California. Border communities are now growing increasingly worried that the recent economic gains may be lost as the Bush administration's efforts to tighten security in order to prevent terrorists or their weapons from crossing the border could slow the wheels of commerce. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

MEXICALI, BAJA CALIFORNIA - MARCH 25: A boy walks along the US/Mexico border fence on March 25, 2005 in Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico. Since the launch of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1995, two-way trade has boomed between the US and Mexico, and Mexican dollars are fueling development in economically-depressed Calexico, California. Border communities are now growing increasingly worried that the recent economic gains may be lost as the Bush administration's efforts to tighten security in order to prevent terrorists or their weapons from crossing the border could slow the wheels of commerce. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)  (2004 Getty Images)

Immigration reform has been one of the most talked about issues for the past couple of years – and that has only increased since the election. Obviously this week is filled with headlines about the President’s executive action on the issue. 

I’ve been advocating for immigration reform for years.  I believe an important component to reform is having an avenue for law-abiding immigrants to become lawful residents.  This is important to me.  However, I strongly believe it should be done through legislation. Temporarily removing the risk of deportation is nowhere near the same as being given a pathway to legal status.  We must have legislation in order to achieve this ultimate goal.

Perceived Republican hostility to the DREAM Act has already hurt the party’s stance with foreign-born Hispanics. But the party can recover by addressing another important issue among immigrant voters, and that is immigration reform.

- Raul Danny Vargas

Those of us who are supporters of substantive immigration reform must continue to call for this. The President’s action does nothing to change the urgency of this.  Together we must bring a strong and unified voice to Congress calling for immigration reform to be passed using conservative values.  Immigration reform needs to be a top priority for the Republican Party. It’s necessary policy that should be addressed with legislation.  And it is also policy that makes smart politics.

Naturalized citizens make up 8.1 percent of the voting age citizen population, and 4.2 million newly naturalized Hispanics and Asians are projected to become eligible to vote by 2020.  These votes will be essential to winning future elections in key states, according to a study by the Partnership for a New American Economy (PNAE).  If Republicans want to build support with these important voting groups, they need to stop alienating them and begin looking for common ground.

Immigrant voters hold many of the same social values and common core principles as Republicans, but despite their conservative views on issues, most immigrants do not affiliate with either major political party. Those who do identify as Democrats, are on average much more conservative than their native-born Democratic counterparts, making them potential swing voters for Republicans in the future.

In order to reach the immigrant voting groups with familiar core social values, Republicans must make a concerted effort to remove any issues that isolate the party from these voters. Perceived Republican hostility to the DREAM Act has already hurt the party’s stance with foreign-born Hispanics. But the party can recover by addressing another important issue among immigrant voters, and that is immigration reform.

The trends indicated in the PNAE report make it clear that key immigrant voting groups may be open to voting for Republican candidates. In order to appeal to these crucial voters, it’s in conservatives’ best interests to take meaningful action on immigration reform. This will help alleviate issues that are alienating immigrant citizens and help the Republican Party win support from swing voting groups that have been overlooked in the past.   

While the executive action by the President will give many immigrants the peace of mind knowing that they will not be deported during his Presidency, we cannot stop our diligent efforts to seek meaningful reform legislation.

Raul Danny Vargas is former chair of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly.

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